Calm, cool and collected.
Those three words typified Jackson Ragen’s play Friday night against Cornell. Thanks in large part to the junior centerback’s goal and defensive performance, the Michigan men’s soccer team (2-1) dominated the Big Red 3-0, earning their second victory in a row.
“We started a little bit nervy on defense with some of our clearances and back passes but after that we settled in,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “I thought our (defenders) were absolutely spot on after that. They made some desperation blocks in the first half. In the second half, they moved their feet, they defended well and cleared their lines.”
In a game where Cornell (0-1) registered only one shot on target, Ragen never looked rattled and commanded a restructured backline with relative ease. The junior displayed why he’s the clear leader of the backline with the most starting experience of Michigan’s defensive unit.
Having entered college as a 2017 NSCA All-American and a member of the 2017 U.S. Soccer Nationals Best XI, Ragen played in 16 matches as a freshman Wolverine and started in 10 of them. As a sophomore, he started all 21 games and was named to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team.
With the departures of veteran defenders Daniel Mukuna, Marcello Borges and Peter Brown from last year’s team, Ragen is now the anchor of a Wolverines’ defense comprised of two first-time starters — junior fullback Joel Harrison and freshman fullback Carter Payne — and senior centerback Abdou Samake, who started only seven games last season.
As a result, Ragen has needed to be much more of a vocal leader than in previous seasons. Friday night Ragen could be heard directing his teammates into the proper position constantly.
“I have a lot experience after last year,” Ragen said. “I feel like I can help control the game with my comments and just helping the younger guys out.”
With over 18 minutes to go and Michigan leading 2-0, Ragen sprawled out to block a shot from Cornell’s John Scearce in the box. Ragen’s 6-foot-5 frame, speed and composure have made him a formidable defender to challenge in the air or on the ground.
That size even helped him score a goal off a set-piece against the Big Red. Out-muscling his defender, Ragen reached out a foot to a deep free-kick from outside the box and nudged it past Cornell’s goalkeeper Brady McSwain from a tight angle.
“It was a great ball by (junior midfielder) Marc (Ybarra),” Ragen said. “I was just trying to get across it and get my foot on it. Couldn’t have asked for a better ball in, though.”
Though he’s mainly out there to stabilize the backline and limit the opponent’s chances, Ragen has also shown the ability to finish. It was his fourth career goal.
Having given up four goals to Florida Gulf Coast in the season opener and a questionable goal to SIUE last Monday, shoring up the defense was a point of emphasis for the Wolverines coming into the game Friday’s contest. Ragen’s leadership, steadiness, and challenges — not to mention his goal — were crucial to Michigan getting its first shutout of the season.
“We want Jackson to continue to grow,” Daley said. “He’s obviously one of the main men in the group. He demonstrated that last year. His personality needs to match his quality and he’s getting there. He had a little bit of a taste of adversity and was a little quiet but now I think he likes being on top of games.
“From our standpoint, he’s done incredibly well and we hope he continues to grow exponentially over the next season.”